I’m both terrified and happy.
Movies like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind at least have a purposiveness of sparking self reflection, which perhaps is their best quality, but leave something depressing with a mask of happiness on their audience. There’s a reason that we find Slumdog Millionaire (whaddup Danny Boyle) and Shutter Island and, in the same vein as Eternal, 500 Days of Summer so much better than comedies or horrors or even movies that use the same elements but end on a happy note. It’s called an obsession with having a love story that makes us feel normal, and either makes you appreciate this normalcy or crave some sick twisted fatalistic romance that ends in self-destruction.
It’s the same ending every time. You kind of think you’re happy with where things ended up. The characters were really great. You were expecting it to fall below the hype. Everyone said interesting things. You appreciated the cinematography and the music didn’t feature a single early-2000s-power girl song as someone decided to give up everything for love and, literally run toward it as the horrible bridge plays.
There’s this hope at the end, but when you think about it you’re just disgusted. So many people look at 500 Days of Summer, and they’re like, “but it’s okay! They weren’t right for each other! And he meets Autumn right at the end of the movie!” Guys, no. About half of those will eventually realize, wow. That’s like nothing in comparison to the whole movie. It’s a story about 500 days, a long-ass time, where Tom is insanely fucking depressed and manically obsessing over a girl who tells him right off the bat about her emotional vapidity, only to be unable to restrict these feelings, and in time have his every move be affected by the crippling hurt. But then the kicker guys, that’s not even the actual depressing part.
Do you really think Summer getting married hurts him a little, but then that totally gives Tom a new angle on love and life? And that he meets Autumn right after that and it just clicks?
What do you think you would do? You know, after being torn to shreds by the love of my life, and after seeing that he/she got married within a year of it ending, I’d probably slip into an even bigger depression. And we should be outraged by this fluff ending! The cover-up makes the reality of the would-be even more terrifying! It’s like the producers filmed the movie realistically portraying the outcome, since they fucking wrote this depressing story, and then they agreed that everyone would hate the ending, so they just implied it instead and got clever with Tom’s next girlfriend’s name. WHAT? We don’t want to be lied to. I’m not a huge fan of The Break Up but congratu-fucking-lations at least to its honesty.
And Shutter Island, you’re happy at the end because you realize that he’s just been crazy the whole time, that it was a defense mechanism against his depressing past. He’s not really getting fucked over by the system, they’re genuinely trying to help him. Then you’re like wait….he totally gets lobotomized at the end of that. And they just tricked him into living this out.
And then BOOM, I’m sorry, we’re just supposed to be sad at the tragedy of the disturbed man but have some gross satisfaction with his medically-induced relief? THE PART THEY BARELY TALKED ABOUT, HIS FUCKING LIFE, IS THE REAL FUCKING TRAGEDY. And it’s not even that his kids died. It’s literally not even the fact that his wife killed his kids (although that’s still really horrible). It’s the same crazy stomach-curdling thing that happened real-life with the craigslist killer and his fiancée. Teddy Daniels went through a mental breakdown. Thinks he’s a different person. Taking a ton of drugs. Years since the incident. Can’t even remember his past at all. And yet he STILL CONSTANTLY IS SUBCONSCIOUSLY THINKING AND LOOKING FOR HIS DERANGED MURDERER DEAD WIFE BECAUSE HIS LOVE FOR HER IS SO UNCONQUERABLE.
George Noyce: You wanna uncover the truth? You gotta let her go.
Teddy Daniels: I can’t.
George Noyce: You have to let her go!
Teddy Daniels: I can’t! I can’t!
George Noyce: Then you’ll never leave this island.
And that’s the terrifying part. Oh you literally don’t think you can move on? You feel as if a person, even if just as a memory, will never leave you until you die? Good luck with the rest of your life being ruined then.
These are the things, when these self-reflective movies start really making me think, that terrify me. I’m happy to know that a movie with so much thought and money and time and talent poured into it was able to touch me on such a personal level, but for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I’m still deciding. I don’t know if it’s because it’s timely for me, or whether it’s just that ambiguous.
Joel: I can’t see anything that I don’t like about you.
Clementine: But you will! But you will. You know, you will think of things. And I’ll get bored with you and feel trapped because that’s what happens with me.
And that destroys me. That’s the part that we’re supposed to be happy/sad about. We’re happy that they really do end up together, because clearly Joel has been fighting hard to undo what he started, but we’re sad because they both know that the second time around, and every year following, is probably going to be just as bad. But they’re going to do it anyway, for love. And that’s poetic, but it’s really, really, sad.
I don’t even know what to say. The actual sad part? It’s not they both tried to erase each other from their memories. It’s not that Joel tried so hard to reverse it. It’s not the insanely happy moments that make the bad ones look so horrible.
It’s the outcome of the decision he had to make here. Between: a) forgetting a past with mixed feelings and embracing the miraculous ability to actually move on OR b) agreeing to go through the same suffering again for the person you love. I’m terrified that there is some force out there, something strong enough that would overpower my ability to choose the first one. And that kind of love is probably what inspired the film in the first place.
I’m sure there are many people who think I’m a cynic–that most can attest that they would rather have loved and lost than not at all–but if the case here is choosing between something else then the question remains unanswered. Do we choose that we’d rather have loved and forgotten, or lost love and never found it again?
And in a weird way I think I just connected too much to Clementine. Not in a I-make-potato-figurines way but in a I-feel-like-people-think-I’m-nuts-when-I-open-my-mouth kind of way. Chills ran up my spine when she said this line:
Clementine: I don’t know! I DON’T KNOW! I’m lost! I’m scared! I feel like I’m disappearing! MY SKIN’S COMING OFF! I’M GETTING OLD! Nothing makes any sense to me! NOTHING MAKES ANY SENSE!
As a final note, I must say there’s something beautiful about ‘meet me in Montauk.’ That there’s some sort of alternate universe where we can meet up with the people we’ve loved for a second chance, somewhere. Montauk’s nickname is ‘the end,’ which is only appropriate because.